Wednesday, March 6, 2019

We Need to Plant a Trillion Trees…

That’s what scientist Thomas Crowther of the University of Zurich is telling us will successfully neutralize CO2 emissions and combat climate change. “According to his findings,” writes Sophie Hirsh of, “we need to start planting more trees — 1.2 trillion, to be exact. Considering how serious of a problem climate change is right now, it would be pretty awesome if something as straightforward as planting trees could completely cancel out the CO2 emissions of the past decade.” Hirsh adds that Crowther used the current estimate of three trillion trees on Earth, to suggest that there is sufficient room to plant a further 1.2 trillion trees—in empty patches around the world—that will successfully cancel out the last 10 years of CO2 emissions.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as straight forward as Hirsh is hoping. Hirsh’s article and the one it was based on in The Independent by Josh Gabbatiss, was overly vague and overly simple. A program such as this, based on simple math is doomed to fail. It is doomed to fail if it is not based on a deeper understanding of the functional ecology of trees and forests.

Below are three questions that need thorough and reliable answers for such a program to succeed:

1.     Where will this room be? Gabbatiss tells us that the team will not target “urban or agricultural areas, just degraded or abandoned lands.” Is that good enough for the trees? Degraded land? Trees require a healthy undisturbed area to function—or they will not serve as ideal carbon sinks. Trees function at the level of community. The work of foresters, botanists and ecologists have proven that forests act as complex systems, connected underground, above-ground and in the air by a living and communicating network of fungi, bacteria, insects and mammals. These researchers include: Suzanne Simard, Annie Desrochers, Peter Wohlleben, Velemir Ninkovic, and Diana Beresford-Kroeger, among many others. Willy-nilly planting of trees in “convenient abandoned places” will not produce functional trees that will act as healthy carbon sinks. They may, in fact, act as carbon sources—particularly if they grow unhealthy. We need to ensure that our trees are safe within a healthy forest community.

Old beech tree

2.     What kind of trees will be planted and what conditions will be met to ensure they act as carbon sink, not source? (e.g. density, diversity, ecosystem parameters?). “Forests aren’t simply collections of trees,” argues Suzanne Simard, forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia. “They are complex systems with hubs and networks that overlap and connect trees to allow them to communicate, and provide avenues for feedback and adaptation. This makes the forest resilient through many hub trees and overlapping networks.” In her book The Global Forest: 40 Ways Trees Can Save Us, botanist and medical biochemist Diana Beresford-Kroeger tells us that “a functioning forest is a complex form of life. It is interconnected by its own flora and driven by the mammals, the amphibians and insects in it. It is kept in place by fungi, algae, lichens, bacteria, viruses, and bacteriophages.” Harley Rustad writes in  The Walrus:Old growth forests are not simply original; they are complete. A fallen cedar trunk can remain mostly intact for a century, slowly decomposing. Such a ‘nurse log’ provides extensive opportunities for seedlings to take root and a great complexity of life—invertebrates, fungi, birds, small mammals—to flourish. Recent research published in the scientific journal Nature has dispelled 40 years of dogma by confirming that the oldest trees in a forest capture the most carbon from the atmosphere. “Not only are these [old-growth] forests more efficient at absorbing carbon from the atmosphere than smaller second-growth trees, they also present one of the few environments in the world where large carnivores (wolves, mountain lions, and bears) and ungulates (deer and elk) exist alongside some of the biggest trees. The Douglas firs in particular play a key role, transferring nutrients from their great heights to smaller saplings below through mycorrhizal fungi that link together the roots of various species in an underground network,” writes Rustad. To fulfill these crucial roles in ecosystem integrity and ultimately planetary integrity, forests need to remain intact. Intact portions of the forest also need to remain connected. Corridors for wildlife and other biological processes need to exist to retain functionality and resilience. Forests store large amounts of carbon in living trees and soil. During any kind of disturbance such as a wildfire, the forest acts as a source of carbon, emitting large amounts of CO2 (along with the potent greenhouse gases of methane and nitrous oxide). Forest management activities responsible for shifting a forest from a sink to a source include: harvesting; monopoly tree planting aimed at production and not at ecosystem health; management that increases the chance of wildfires, insect infestation and drought. If we are going to succeed with planting trees, we must do more than plant trees; we must plant healthy forests and let them grow old. 

Cathedral Grove, British Columbia

3.     For all the planting going on—does this address all the cutting? Quoting my own article in Impakter, “Humanity is currently cutting down trees at a rate of 15 billion a year. We are losing forests the size of New York City daily; every 100 days we lose forests the size of Scotland; within a single year we lose forest ecosystems the size of Italy.” If we plant but cut at the same if not greater rate, what are we gaining? Deforestation releases a massive carbon sink into the atmosphere that drives global warming. It is largely responsible for reducing populations of wildlife by half in the last 40 years, and for starting the sixth massive extinction event. In forests anywhere between 15 and 800 years of age, the net carbon balance of the forest and soils is usually positive – meaning they absorb more carbon dioxide than they release. “If you are concerned about offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and look at old forests from nothing more than a carbon perspective, the best thing to do is leave them alone,” said Beverly Law, professor of forest science at OSU and director of the AmeriFlux network, a group of 90 research sites in North and Central America that helps to monitor the current global “budget” of carbon dioxide. When an old growth forest is harvested, Law said, studies show that there’s a new input of carbon to the atmosphere for about 5-20 years, before the growing young trees begin to absorb and sequester more carbon than they give off. The creation of new forests, whether naturally or by humans, is often associated with disturbance to soil and the previous vegetation, resulting in decomposition that exceeds for some period the net primary productivity of re-growth.” We must combine tree planting with a cessation of massive clearcutting. If we are going to succeed, we must cease deforestation and clearcutting cutting sustainably (e.g. selective cutting, etc.), keep our forests intact and let them grow old

I agree with Dr Crowther’s argument that “undervaluing trees means scientists have also been massively underestimating the potential for forests to combat climate change.” Project Drawdown, a group that compares the merits of different emission-cutting techniques, currently places onshore wind power and improved recycling of fridges and air conditioners at the top of its list; trees come only in fifteenth place. Crowther’s research suggested much more CO2 capture by trees than previously thought, potentially placing them at a much higher rank to effectively combat climate change.

BUT: We can’t just plant trees; we must take care of them by keeping the forests currently in place and taking care of the global forest.

Red cedar, Pacific Olympic Park

Ecologist Suzanne Simard tells us that trees have a sophisticated and interconnected social network existing underground. Diana Beresford-Kroeger tells us that this functioning complex forest is interconnected by the diverse community that forms it: “other flora, mammals, amphibians, fungi, algae, lichens, bacteria, viruses and bacteriophages. The primogenitors of the forests are trees. They communicate by carbon-coded calls and mass-market themselves by infrasound. The atmosphere links forests into the heavens and the great oceans. The human family is both caught and held in that web of life.”

A world of infinite, biological pathways connect trees and allow them to communicate, and allow the forest to behave as if it’s a single organism.—Suzanne Simard

It’s about time that we treat the forest as a single organism…

Friday, January 11, 2019

Blog Tour of Audiobook The Splintered Universe Trilogy January 8 through 28th

Audiobookworm Promotions has organized an Audiobook series blog tour from January 8th through to January 28th for Nina Munteanu’s “The Splintered Universe Trilogy,” a science fiction detective adventure, starring the indomitable Galactic Guardian, Rhea Hawke.
“Dawn Harvey breathed incredible life into the lead character, Rhea Hawke–both sarcastic and vulnerable at the same time; a detective with a cynical edge, and sultry voice tinged with wiry sarcasm. The story unfolded through Rhea’s narrative like an old film noir as she unraveled mysteries that led to the greatest one: her own.”–Amazon Review
Book 1, Outer Diverse: January 8-14
Book 2, Inner Diverse: January 15-21
Book 3, Metaverse: January 21-28
Follow the tour with blog sites that will include spotlights, reviews, audio excerpts, guest posts, interviews of author, narrator (and character Rhea Hawke!)

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A Tardigrade's Christmas

Ura lived in Mossland with her clone sestras, gathering and sucking the delicious juices of detritus and algae. Never looking up or in much of a hurry, she lumbered from frond to front on eight stubby legs in a gestalt of feasting and being. Ura led a microscopic life of bloated bliss—unaware of forests, human beings, quantum physics or the coming singularity…
A sudden fierce wind wicked her water away. In a burst of alien urgency, she wriggled madly for purchase on the frond as it shivered violently in the roaring wind. Ura lost hold and the wind swept her into a dark dryness. Her liquid life-force bleeding away from her, Ura crawled into herself. The moss piglet felt herself shrivel into oblivion.
No, not oblivion… more like a vast expanse…
She had entered a wonderland of twinkling lights in a vast fabric of dark matter. Where am I?
It occurred to her that she had never thought such a thing before. Am I dead? She’d never thought about existence before either. What has happened to me? And where are my sestras? She felt an overwhelming sadness. Something else she’d never felt before and wondered why she hadn’t. Did it have to do with that liquid that had always embraced her with its life-force? Here, in the darkness of space, she felt alone for the first time, separated from the plenum.
“Welcome, sestra!” boomed a large voice.
Ura beheld a being like her with eight arms and hands, seated on a throne and wearing a jeweled crown. “Why do you call me sestra?” Ura asked.
“Because we are ALL sestras! You are a Tardigrade, aren’t you?” She waved all eight arms at Ura. “Well, I am your queen!” She looked self-pleased. “You are in Tunland now! The land of awareness. And now that you are self-aware, you can do anything! We’re special,” the queen ended in smug delight. The folds of her body jiggled and shimmered.
“Why are we special?” Ura asked.
“Because we are!” the queen said sharply, already losing patience with her new subject. “Don’t you know that you can survive anything? Ionizing radiation. Huge pressure. Boiling heat. Freezing cold. Absolutely no air. And no water…”
Ura gasped.
Water was the elixor that connected her to her sestras and her world… her…home…
“How do you think you got here, eh?” the queen mocked her with a sinister laugh. Ura cringed. The queen went on blithely, “So, where do you come from, piglet?”
“I’m trying to find my way home…”
“Your way? All ways here are my ways!”
“But I was just thinking—”
“I warn you, child…” The queen glowered at her. “If I lose my temper, you lose your head. Understand?”
Ura nodded, now missing her home even more.
“Why think when you can do!” the queen added, suddenly cheerful again. “First there is BE, then THINK, then DO. Why not skip the think part and go straight to the do part? In Tunland we do that all the time,” she went on blithely. “And, as I was saying, here we can do anything!”
The queen grabbed Ura by an arm and steered them through the swirling darkness of space toward a box-like floating object. “This is my doctor’s Tardis…”
“Doctor who?” Ura naively asked.
The queen shivered off her annoyance and led them eagerly through the door and into her kingdom.
They entered a strange place of giant blocks and whining sounds beneath a dark swirling sky.
The first thing Ura noticed was the huge tardigrades floating above them like dirigibles! Others were dressed in suits holding little suitcases and walking into and out of the huge blocks through doorways.
“We’ve crossed into another dimension—my universe,” the queen announced cheerfully. “Here you can do anything you want. So, why be tiny and feckless when you can be huge and powerful!” She studied Ura. “This is your moment to do what you could never do before. Think of the possibilities! You too could be huge!”
Ura stared at the strange world of smoke and metal and yearned for her simple mossy home.
As if she knew what Ura wanted, the queen quickly added, “But you can never go back home!”
“Why not?” Ura asked, disappointed.
Because, that’s why!” the queen shouted.  Squinting, she added, “It’s too late. It’s just not done! Once you’ve learned what the colour green means you can’t erase its significance!”
“But I still don’t know what the colour green means,” Ura complained. “And, besides, I think you’re wrong. Becoming self-aware doesn’t stop you from going home. It just changes its meaning. And if I can really do what I want, then you can’t stop me. I’m going home to my family.” 
The little hairs on the queen bristled. Then she grew terribly calm. “I won’t stop you, but…” The queen pointed to the floating tardigrades above them. “My water bear army will. I sentence you to remain in Tunland forever for your crime!”
“I haven’t done anything…yet.”
“You’ve broken the law of thinking before doing. In Tunland you have to skip that part—”
“You just made that up—”
“Doesn’t matter!” shouted the queen. “Sentence first, verdict afterwards!”
“That’s nonsense,” said Ura loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first.”
“Hold your tongue!” said the queen, turning a shade of chartreuse.
“I won’t,” said Ura.
“Off with your head!” the queen shouted at the top of her voice, pointing to Ura with all eight of her appendages. The water bear army hovered over Ura, taking aim. They were going to get more than her head with those lasers, ura thought, and scurried for cover faster than her stubby eight legs had ever moved before. She was doomed—  
Then, just beyond her sight, she saw—no felt—something far more significant than the colour green…or a huge bloated water bear army about to shoot her…
Water! She could taste it, smell it, hear it. Ura rejoiced with thoughts of her green home.
The water came in a giant wet wave of blue and silver and frothy green. Tunland sloshed then totally dissolved. Ura surfed the churning water. That green! She knew what it was! Ura reached out with her deft claws and snagged a tumbling moss frond. It finally settled and there were her sestras! So many of them clinging to the same green moss! She’d found her family! She was home! Yes, it was a different home and different sestras, but it was also the same. Love made it so…

For the first time, Ura looked up … and saw a bright star…

Merry Christmas!